On Assignment
First Through the Door
Rigorous planning, textbook execution – behind the scenes of an enforcement operation with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).

Home Team News
PHOTO: Aizil A. Rahim

The Team

It’s close to midnight on a weekend in early November, and we are sitting in a nondescript briefing room with a team of seasoned CNB officers. Covering one of the walls is a map of eastern Singapore.

We are not supposed to describe the officers present, but here are two general observations about them. Each knows the harm that drugs can cause – to abusers, to families, to society at large. And, when it comes to taking the fight to drug traffickers and abusers, each is ready to be the first officer through the door.

Tonight’s enforcement operation will be conducted at a pub in one of the livelier districts in Singapore. In charge of the operation is Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Kumar, a CNB officer who has been with the force for five years. Sporting slim glasses, a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, he speaks in clipped sentences and has a serious air about him.

With the entire team present, the briefing begins. Meticulous planning is one of the hallmarks of an effective enforcement operation, and little is left to chance. ASP Kumar makes sure that the officers know their roles, what the rules of engagement are and what they are likely to find on the ground.

On the Move

“Any questions?” he asks.

ASP Kumar takes a final look around the briefing room, then dismisses the team. The officers do a final equipment check and then go to their vehicles.

It’s now midnight. There’s little traffic on the roads at this hour, and even fewer pedestrians. Most of us would be in bed by now, but the officers have much to do.

The ride is swift. Along the way, ASP Kumar shares about the district that we will be going to; how other Home Team Departments are operating there; the latest word on what’s happening on the ground.

In fighting the scourge of drugs, the CNB takes an integrated, multi-pronged approach that includes legislation and a comprehensive public education programme. But the core of its anti-drug efforts is dogged investigative and enforcement work – constantly meeting the threat of drugs, wherever it appears. And it is here that CNB officers show their mettle.

You see this in the way they carry themselves; in their laser-like focus on the job at hand.

A few more turns and we are now in a residential area, just a few minutes away from the pub. Engine idling, the team runs through the details of the operation one last time.

And then, with all the teams in place, ASP Kumar gives the signal: “Let’s go.” 

Home Team News
PHOTO: Aizil A. Rahim


We pull up to the site of the enforcement operation – a nondescript pub along a row of shophouses lined with eateries, grocery shops and 24-hour internet cafes.

First through the front door tonight is a young officer, alert and poised. Not far behind him is ASP Kumar.

With the front door open, electronica fills the air, but the beat is abruptly cut off as the lights in the pub are turned on.

The first thing we see when we enter is a glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling. About 30 patrons stand around several small cocktail tables, their mood subdued. At one table, a dice game is in disarray.

The air smells of cigarettes and beer. Paper napkins litter the floor. Two wall-mounted TVs are showing a foam party; on a third, a football international is in progress, the score nil/nil.

And in the time it took us to register all of these details, the pub has been secured by the CNB officers.

Home Team News
PHOTO: Aizil A. Rahim

The Smallest Details

Enforcement operations like this one are a regular and essential part of combating the trafficking and abuse of drugs; and there is no certainty about what the officers will turn up. So they must be prepared for any contingency.

The team is all business as it begins the night’s work. A pool table at the back of the pub serves as a makeshift screening area; having set up their equipment and donned rubber gloves, the officers begin their checks.

Searching for drugs and drug-taking paraphernalia requires both adhering to a strict set of protocols and being alert to the smallest details and leads. As the minutes tick by, ASP Kumar walks briskly between his teams to have a word with his fellow officers, his eyes sweeping across the pub to ensure that everything is as it should be.

Finally, one patron is led away in handcuffs; further investigations will follow.

Home Team News
PHOTO: Aizil A. Rahim

Making a Difference

Satisfied that the job is completed, ASP Kumar calls for the enforcement operation to be wrapped up. And as quickly as the officers set up their equipment, they have packed it all and are ready to go.

It’s quiet outside the pub. ASP Kumar takes a moment to observe the neighbouring businesses, then gets into his vehicle for the return journey.

On the ride back, the officers exchange views about what they saw – the details and particularities that will help them in the enforcement operations to come. There’s little in the way of small talk, just an unspoken understanding between professionals who share a mission and take pride in doing a challenging job well.

For ASP Kumar, it has been a good night’s work. “The performance of the team was clean and efficient,” he says. “We had a good system in place and the officers ensured that the operation ran smoothly.”

It’s clear that for ASP Kumar, being a CNB officer is more than a job. “The impact of our work may not be immediately apparent,” he explains. “But as long as I feel that the drug activity in our neighbourhoods is mitigated by our enforcement work, and all my officers return safely, then we have made a difference.”

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 24 November 2017
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